Christianity 201

March 22, 2022

Musical Instruments in Worship

Psalm 150 NLT

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!

Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!

Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!

Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!

Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.

Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

It’s difficult to read the above and then realize that there are entire denominations within Christianity which do not accept the use of musical instruments in worship. The passage seems not only prescriptive in the literal sense, but seems to represent a pattern where “Praise him with electric guitars;” or “Praise him with keyboard synthesizers” would not be out of line.

And yet…

Ten years ago local church in Texas wound up as a newspaper story over their debate as to whether to go against the denomination and include guitars.

…Churches of Christ have traditionally called for instrument-free worship services, believing New Testament Scriptures and church traditions affirm and require the practice.

Some members, like Hicks, see the inclusion of instruments as a departure not just from tradition, but also from God’s word – and therefore, a matter of salvation.

Others appreciate the denomination’s a capella worship tradition, but question whether it is a Scriptural requirement…

The article pointed to Ephesians 5: 19-20

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (NIV)

But there is a principle of hermeneutics — which we’ll get to — that just because something isn’t expressly mentioned, doesn’t necessarily mean it is forbidden.

The article — and this is actually quite commendable for a local newspaper story — goes on to note that this simply wasn’t true for the Old Testament.

Numerous Scriptures, like those in 2 Chronicles 7 and 29, Psalms 33, 92 and 150, affirmed instrumental worship, the leaders decided.

An apologetic from a leader in that same denomination states,

As further proof that we should expressively forbid the use of musical instruments in worship, we know from the first several centuries of church history that singing was unaccompanied in all Christian worship. The Latin phrase “a cappella” comes to us from ancient times with the meaning of singing without instrumental music. Literally translated, “a cappella” means “at chapel.” Clearly, this is evidence that at some time in the past Christians routinely worshiped God with unaccompanied singing. Even as recent as the 19th century, religious leaders of most denominations condemned the use of mechanical instruments during worship.

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies.

But that statement also reminds us that worship was for many centuries conducted in Latin. This creates two problems. First, Latin would be unknown to the early church members. Did they not worship in their vernacular? Second, if that is and should be the pattern, why have we drifted from Latin today? The logic of the argument pales on close examination.

In the Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn’s entry on Psalms states,

the Greek title for the book in the Codex Alexandrinus is psalterion, which is the name of a stringed instrument used to accompany songs of worship.

Scott Smith, the writer who quoted Hahn went on to note:

…This isn’t just the Church of Christ who discourages, if not expressly forbids, the use of musical instruments in worship. These other churches do the same: some Presbyterian churches, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, the Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Amish and Mennonite communities…

In addition, it is said that the practice of using instruments was “opposed vigorously in worship by the majority of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Alexander Campbell.” Go figure.

These New Testament verses are often cited as a basis for not using instruments in worship: Mathew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12, 13:15; James 5:13…

However, they are merely invocations to sing, not denouncements of instruments. In these verses, Christ’s apostles find themselves alone on the Mount of Olives, imprisoned, etc. … Hey! Why didn’t anybody remember to bring a lute to prison?? Yikes.

Responding to the verse in Ephesians, a writer with the opposite viewpoint says,

…Since Paul is giving a command, if he had reference to playing a mechanical instrument of music we would all be obligated to do so. It would not be optional, but mandatory for every Christian. The early church did not understand it this way, as they never worshiped God with a mechanical instrument. Therefore, instrumental music in worship is an addition to the word of God. From passages such as Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19 we learn that God would not have us to add to His word. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:6, “Learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (ASV). In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul admonishes, “teach no other doctrine”. Remember, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God” (ASV).

He then goes on to list several things wrong with instrumental music, but you’ll need to scan that list of bullet points for yourself and see how your spirit responds to the flow of the argument.

The quotation from 1 Corinthians leads to the final thought on this topic, and for this I am thankful for having two “theologians” in the family, particularly my wife Ruth and my son Aaron, who pointed me this morning to the difference between the “regulative principle” for worship and the “normative principle.”

The most straightforward explanation I saw was this from the Compelling Truth website,

Regulative worship relies upon Scripture to dictate specifically what is allowed in worship. If it isn’t in the Bible, it cannot be in a worship setting. Normative worship looks at the other side of the coin. If it isn’t prohibited in the Bible, then it is allowed in worship.

The site provides a simple comparison:

Churches which choose regulative worship do not use musical instruments, for example, because there is no New Testament command to do so. Normative churches may use drama, music, and other expressions in worship because they are not forbidden in Scripture…

…Both regulative and normative churches claim they are following God’s Word…

The article continues in a direction which may be familiar to longtime readers here when we discussed the differences between rules and principles.* In other words, the goal is to appeal to the highest principle.

In the extreme, the regulative principle would also, in addition to the manner in which sung worship takes place, dictate the content of what is sung, as pointed out in an article in Breakpoint.

…Of course, this raises questions of where to draw the line between elements and circumstances. For example, singing is commanded in Scripture, but what are we to sing? Some denominations that adhere to the Regulative Principle argue that we should only sing Psalms as words mandated by God, perhaps supplemented with biblical texts such as the Song of Simeon. Others argue that the command to address one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs allows for a broader range of songs than just the Psalter. The rejoinder is that those terms represent different types of psalms…

The article says that in contrast,

Although the Normative Principle might seem to be less concerned with biblical fidelity than the Regulative Principle, it too looks on the Bible as the final authority on how we should worship God. However, it does not interpret the biblical text as a set of rules for worship but rather as guidelines showing us how to worship in Spirit and truth without mandating every last thing that can be done in worship. It allows for more creativity, including the use of a range of arts.

Each person reading this will decide for themselves if “doing what God commands” means “doing only what God commands.”


*I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles. If rules appear to be in conflict, appeal to the higher principles which govern them.

 

 

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January 25, 2012

Can Worship Be Defined in Terms of Experience?

Over the weekend, I brought my obsession with Eugene Peterson to my readers at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to share the quotation — which my wife graciously typed out for me — with readers here…

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party. I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson